Revealed: How a bank in Turkey funded Hamas terror operations

Revealed: How a bank in Turkey funded Hamas terror operations
Palestinian militants from the Ezzedine al-Qassam brigade, the armed wing of Hamas, carry mock rockets at a rally at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on December 12, 2014. (AFP File Photo)
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Updated 25 October 2020

Revealed: How a bank in Turkey funded Hamas terror operations

Revealed: How a bank in Turkey funded Hamas terror operations
  • American court ruling shines new light on Erdogan’s support for violent extremists

JEDDAH: A US district court ruling that a foreign bank based in Istanbul helped finance the Hamas terror group has heaped further pressure on Turkey over its tacit support for terrorism funding.

Ankara has remained silent on the verdict, but the court’s findings are likely to isolate Turkey further on the international stage and damage its relations with Israel.

Three US law firms, including Stein Mitchell, last year launched legal action against the Kuveyt Turk bank over alleged terror financing.

The firms were acting on behalf of the estate of husband and wife Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, who were murdered in their car in a West Bank terror attack in 2015. The couple’s four children were also in the vehicle, but survived.

Eitam Henkin was a US national and his wife a foreign national.

The attack was praised by Hamas as an act of “brave resistance” and “heroic.”

In its ruling, the US eastern district court of New York said that the Kuveyt Turk “knowingly maintained several bank accounts for a Hamas operative who was the terrorist organization’s primary Turkish fundraising entity.”

According to the court, the bank “fully understood the operative’s role in supporting Hamas’ illicit and violent activities.”

“We all know about Iran’s longstanding support for Hamas. But less understood is the fact that Turkey, a NATO ally, provides significant support to the terrorist group,” Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tweeted on Friday.

Plaintiffs in the case claimed that the bank aided and supported the murders by providing banking services to three customers, including a known Hamas operative, Jihad Yaghmour, and a Hamas-run institution, the Islamic University of Gaza.

However, the complaint also accused Turkey of acting as a “major political and financial supporter for Hamas,” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly meeting senior Hamas leaders.

Turkey’s acceptance of 11 Palestinian prisoners released under a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas in 2011 was also included in the court ruling as a proof of close ties between Ankara and the terror organization.

The court also criticized Turkey for its failure to ban the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, known as the IHH, a prominent fundraiser for Hamas in the country.

The foundation has been operating as part of the Union of Good, a global fundraising network for the terror organization, since October 2000. The network gathers over 50 separate Islamic organizations, several of which are designated as global terror groups by the US Treasury Department.

IHH made headlines after the Mavi Marmara raid when volunteers from the group on board a Turkish-owned vessel attempted to bypass the Gaza blockade in May 2010. Israeli forces stormed the ship and killed 10 activists on board, including Turkish nationals and an American of Turkish origin.

The US court harshly criticized the IHH for supporting the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), which served since the 1990s as the principal recruitment source for Hamas ranks, especially Al-Qassam Brigades.

According to the court ruling, from 2012-2015, Kuveyt Bank conducted criminal activities by maintaining several bank accounts for Yaghmour, IHH and IUG. These included Euro-dollar accounts used to transfer funds though bank accounts in the US.

On Thursday, The Times newspaper in the UK claimed that Hamas had set up a secret headquarters in Istanbul to carry out cyber strikes and counter-intelligence against Saudi and UAE embassies in the Middle East and Europe.

Based on Western intelligence sources, the unit is allegedly run by Hamas’ military leadership in Gaza and directed by Samakh Saraj, a senior Hamas member.

In August, the US criticized Turkey over Erdogan’s hosting of two Hamas leaders in Istanbul, the second time this year, saying that the officials were “specially designated global terrorists.” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh was a guest of honor at the meeting.

“President Erdogan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community, harms the interests of the Palestinian people, and undercuts global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza,” the US State Department said.

However, Turkey continues to court Hamas despite US objections amid claims that Ankara has granted passports and citizenship to dozens of militants in the past two years, including senior members of a Hamas terror cell.


Israeli grandfather says he saved, not kidnapped, grandson in Italy

Israeli grandfather says he saved, not kidnapped, grandson in Italy
Updated 17 September 2021

Israeli grandfather says he saved, not kidnapped, grandson in Italy

Israeli grandfather says he saved, not kidnapped, grandson in Italy
  • Eitan Biran's parents, younger brother and 11 other people all died when a gondola plunged to the ground in northern Italy in May
  • Italian media said Shmuel Peleg had driven with his grandson across the nearby border to Switzerland and flown on a private jet to Tel Aviv

JERUSALEM: The grandfather of a six-year-old boy who is the only survivor of an Italian cable car disaster said he was looking out for his grandson’s wellbeing by bringing him to Israel.
He did so against the will of the boy’s family in Italy.
Eitan Biran’s parents, younger brother and 11 other people all died when a gondola plunged to the ground in northern Italy in May. He is now at the center of a custody battle.
The boy moved in with his paternal aunt, Aya Biran, in northern Italy after the accident. A week ago his maternal grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, picked him up for a planned family trip but they never returned, according to the aunt.
Italian media said Peleg had driven with his grandson across the nearby border to Switzerland and flown on a private jet to Tel Aviv.
“What is good for the boy outweighs my personal interests,” Peleg said when told during an interview on Israel’s Channel 12 that Italian authorities are calling his action kidnapping.
“So I decided that I am saving the boy and bringing him to Israel,” Peleg said during the TV interview that aired on Friday. “I took a car, a KIA. I drove with Eitan. The passports were checked at the embassy in Switzerland. Approved. And we took off in a completely legal manner to Israel.”
The boy’s family in Italy has filed a petition in a Tel Aviv family court for his return. Their Israeli lawyer said the court had set a hearing for Sept. 29. It is required to make a ruling within six weeks.
A legal source has said prosecutors in the northern Italian city of Pavia had opened a kidnapping investigation. The prosecutors’ office declined to comment.
Israeli police have said they had received a complaint that a minor had been kidnapped and flown to Israel, and had questioned an unidentified 58-year-old man on suspicion of involvement.
Asked why he did not wait for an Italian court to make a decision, Peleg said “I must say that I lost faith in the Italian judicial system.”
Peleg’s family, through a public relations firm, said earlier in a statement that the Italian consul in Israel came to Peleg’s house to meet with Eitan.
“The message from the consul was that the foreign ministries are working to try to find a compromise between the families,” according to the statement.
Magistrates are still investigating why the cable car, on a line connecting Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore to the nearby Mottarone mountain, plunged to the ground.


Israeli FM to visit Bahrain in first after diplomatic accord

Israeli FM to visit Bahrain in first after diplomatic accord
Updated 17 September 2021

Israeli FM to visit Bahrain in first after diplomatic accord

Israeli FM to visit Bahrain in first after diplomatic accord
  • Yair Lapid announced the visit in a conference call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and officials from Bahrain, UAE and Morocco
  • “This Abraham Accords club is open to new members," Lapid said

JERUSALEM: Israel’s foreign minister said Friday that he will visit Bahrain later this month, the first such visit by an Israeli minister to the Gulf country following a diplomatic agreement reached last year.
Yair Lapid announced the visit in a conference call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and officials from Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco, which signed US-brokered agreements to normalize relations with Israel last year.
The officials hailed the so-called Abraham Accords, which have led to the opening of embassies, the launch of direct flights and a raft of agreements to boost economic ties. They expressed hope that the new relationships would be deepened and that other nations would follow suit.
“This Abraham Accords club is open to new members,” Lapid said, before announcing that he plans to visit Bahrain by the end of the month. He visited the UAE in June and Morocco in August.
The Biden administration has welcomed the accords brokered by former President Donald Trump’s administration, and has pledged to build on them.
The Palestinians viewed the agreements as a betrayal of their national cause because they further eroded a longstanding Arab consensus that recognition of Israel should be conditioned on progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state.
Blinken, who hosted the video conference, said “we all must build on these relationships and growing normalization to make tangible improvements in the lives of Palestinians and to make progress toward the longstanding goal of advancing a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita called the accords a “historic event that is worth commemorating,” but said that relaunching the peace process with the Palestinians is “fundamental.”
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani said more should be done to showcase the benefits of cooperation.
“We need to demonstrate what genuine regional peace, interdependence and prosperity can mean in practice for the day-to-day lives of all the peoples of the Middle East,” he said.


Blinken says US to help foster Israel's ties with Arab states

Blinken says US to help foster Israel's ties with Arab states
Updated 17 September 2021

Blinken says US to help foster Israel's ties with Arab states

Blinken says US to help foster Israel's ties with Arab states
  • Blinken said Washington would work to deepen Israel's long-standing relationship with Egypt and Jordan
  • He said the US will encourage other countries to normalise ties with Israel

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged on Friday to encourage more Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel as he hosted a virtual meeting with Israeli and Arab counterparts to mark the first anniversary of a set of landmark diplomatic agreements.
The event — held with Blinken’s counterparts from Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco — was the Biden administration’s highest-profile embrace of the Abraham Accords, which were widely seen as a diplomatic success for Republican former President Donald Trump.
Democratic President Joe Biden has backed the deals since taking office in January, and senior aides have said they want more Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel after decades of enmity. But the administration until now had been cool to the idea of commemorating the anniversary of the accords.
On Friday, however, Blinken hailed their diplomatic and economic benefits, saying: “This administration will continue to build on the successful efforts of the last administration to keep normalization marching forward.”
He said the Biden administration would help foster Israel’s growing ties with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco — as well as Sudan, which also reached a breakthrough with Israel last year – and would work to deepen Israel’s relationships with Egypt and Jordan, which have long-standing peace deals.
And Blinken said Washington would encourage more countries to follow their lead. “We want to widen the circle of peaceful diplomacy,” he said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid agreed, saying: “This Abraham Accords club is open to new members as well.”
The leaders of Israel, the UAE and Bahrain signed the accords at the White House last September. Israel and Sudan announced in the following month that they would normalize relations, and Morocco established diplomatic ties with Israel in December, after Biden defeated Trump in the US election.
Palestinian officials said they felt betrayed by their Arab brethren for reaching deals with Israel without first demanding progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state.
Some critics said Trump had promoted Arab rapprochement with Israel while ignoring Palestinian aspirations for statehood.
But Blinken, who has sought to repair ties with the Palestinians badly damaged under Trump, said: “We all must build on these relationships and growing normalization to make tangible improvements in the lives of Palestinians, and to make progress toward the long-standing goal of advancing negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”


US issues sanctions tied to supporters of Hezbollah, Iran

US issues sanctions tied to supporters of Hezbollah, Iran
Updated 17 September 2021

US issues sanctions tied to supporters of Hezbollah, Iran

US issues sanctions tied to supporters of Hezbollah, Iran

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Friday it was sanctioning Lebanon and Kuwait-based financial conduits that fund the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah as well as financial facilitators and front companies that support the group and Iran.
Hezbollah "continues to exploit the legitimate commercial sector for financial and material support, which enables the group to carry out acts of terrorism and degrade Lebanon’s political institutions," Treasury said in the announcement.
The sanctions also apply to businessman Morteza Minaye Hashemi, who lives in China and who had funneled money to Iran's Qods Force, Treasury said. Two Chinese nationals had helped Hashemi establish bank accounts and served as straw owners for his companies, which were based in Hong Kong and mainland China, according to the Treasury release.


Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing
Updated 17 September 2021

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing
  • Raisi hailed the opportunity that membership would provide for Iran to join important trade links across Eurasia

Iran joined a rapidly expanding central Asian security body led by Russia and China on Friday, calling on the countries in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to help it form a mechanism to avert sanctions imposed by the West.
The body, formed in the 2001 as a talking shop for Russia, China and ex-Soviet states in Central Asia, expanded four years ago to include India and Pakistan, with a view to playing a bigger role as counterweight to Western influence in the region.
In a sign of its growing influence, the body’s summit in Tajikistan was the first appearance abroad of Iran’s new hard-line president, Ebrahimi Raisi, since taking office in August.
Raisi hailed the opportunity that membership would provide for Iran, as a country along China’s “Belt and Road” route, to join important trade links across Eurasia. Iranian television described Iran’s membership as giving it access to huge markets across the continent.
In his speech to members, Raisi compared sanctions on Iran to terrorism, and said the organization should design a mechanism that helps Tehran avert them.
Russia and China, along with Western countries, are parties of a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Washington abandoned that deal in 2018 and unilaterally reimposed financial sanctions. Negotiations this year to revive it have been stalled since Raisi’s election.
“Nothing can stop Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities that are within the framework of international regulations,” Raisi said. “Diplomacy is only effective when all parties adhere to it. Threats and pressure tie diplomacy’s hands and render it ineffective.”